After growing up in Long Beach and graduating from high school in 1976, Allen Schwartz attended the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, majoring in hotel management. Upon graduating, he actually did manage hotels in Las Vegas, including the Riviera Hotel.
He would come back for a few weeks here and there for a vacation and to visit his parents, but moved back fully in 1988 when his mother became sick. His parents at the time were running Laurel Cleaners, a dry-cleaning shop located at 285 West Park Ave, which they opened in 1963. This year, the shop is celebrating its 60th year in Long Beach.
Schwartz, 65, has been involved with the shop ever since he was a young boy, sometimes going into work with his parents, but since returning home in 1988, owns and runs the shop alongside his wife, Lisa.
“I basically started taking over the store when I came back,” Schwartz recalled. “You know, my dad was getting older and my mom was sick. I just thought when my father gets better, he’d take over the store again. Then one thing led to another and I never left.”
Schwartz has seen different generations of families come into his shop, seeing kids come in with their parents and then come in themselves as adults. He’s also seen styles change. He remembers when everything coming in was cotton. Then it switched to polyester and now, he says, it has gone back to cotton a little.
The Covid pandemic impacted the cleaners, along with everything else. In fact, according to Schwartz, dry cleaners were one of the businesses that were impacted the most. Most people began working remotely and even if they had meetings, they were on Zoom, without the need of suits. And, after all, “you don’t dry clean a T-shirt.”
“Everyone started working from home and dress was casual,” he said. “Restaurants changed their outlook and started doing things like delivery or pickup or drop off. We couldn’t do that. I’m lucky because we own the building. I know many people that put in claims but were not able to stay. We were.”
Through all the challenges and changes in both dry-cleaning and Long Beach, one thing has remained the same for Schwartz – the people. He and his wife can’t go grocery shopping or out to eat without people recognizing him, the “dry cleaning guy.” He even has a booth at the Laurel Diner, which is across the street from his shop, that’s his, although not officially, of course.
“One year, my wife and I went to Disney World in Florida,” Schwartz remembered. “We were walking on the bridge to Tomorrowland and someone stopped me and said, ‘hey, I know you. You’re my dry cleaner.’ No matter where I am, I can’t hide. Everyone knows everyone, no matter where you go. It’s kind of neat.”
Schwartz has two daughters, Breanna, a physics teacher at Uniondale High School, and Mikaela, a forensic mental health counselor in Bay Shore. They both help out at the shop from time to time. Schwartz has no plans to stop anytime soon.